More from Mr. Steyn

From "Don't Cross the Forces of Tolerance," about the quivering sensibility of the leaders of Boston and Chicago in the face of the outrageous preference of Chick-Fil-A's president for first wives and Biblical principles:
Mayor Menino subsequently backed down and claimed the severed rooster's head left in Mr. Cathy's bed was all just a misunderstanding.  Yet, when it comes to fighting homophobia on Boston's Freedom Trail, His Honor is highly selective.  As the Boston Herald's Michael Graham pointed out, Menino is happy to hand out municipal licenses to groups whose most prominent figures call for gays to be put to death.  The mayor couldn't have been more accommodating (including giving them $1.8 million of municipal land) of the new mosque of the Islamic Society of Boston, whose IRS returns listed as one of their seven trustees Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  Like President Obama, Imam Qaradawi's position on gays is in a state of "evolution":  He can't decide whether to burn them or toss 'em off a cliff.  "Some say we should throw them from a high place," he told Al-Jazeera.  "Some say we should burn them, and so on.  There is disagreement . . . .  The important thing is to treat this act as a crime."  Unlike the deplorable Mr. Cathy, Imam Qaradawi is admirably open-minded:  There are so many ways to kill homosexuals, why restrict yourself to just one?  In Mayor Menino's Boston, if you take the same view of marriage as President Obama did from 2009 to 2012, he'll run your homophobic ass out of town.  But, if you want to toss those godless sodomites off the John Hancock Tower, he'll officiate at your ribbon-cutting ceremony. 
* * * 
But political winds shift.  Once upon a time, Massachusetts burned witches.  Now it grills chicken-sandwich homophobes.  One day it'll be something else.  Already in Europe, in previously gay-friendly cities like Amsterdam, demographically surging Muslim populations have muted Leftie politicians' commitment to gay rights, feminism and much else.   It's easy to cheer on the thugs when they're thuggish in your name.  What happens when Emanuel's political needs change?

A Recommendation: God and Logic in Islam

I want to take a moment to praise a book I have been reading recently. It's a new book by a professor at Indiana University named John Walbridge, entitled God And Logic in Islam: The Caliphate of Reason.

In his introduction he writes that he had three readers in mind: the educated Westerner who may not be fully aware of Islam's intensely rational and scholastic history, but only of the Islam they see on the news; the Muslim reader who is troubled by the crisis of his faith; and the scholar of Islamic studies. He asks these readers to be patient with each other's needs -- the Islamic scholar with the careful spelling out of terms, for example, or the Western reader with the brief history of Western philosophical thought and its effect on modern politics in the West.

His second chapter -- entitled "The Diversity of Reason" -- is surely the chapter that ought most to require my patience, and yet I found it to be extremely insightful reading. I don't think I've ever read such a successful attempt to explain the roots of the clashes in the modern West in concise, brief strokes. The whole chapter is fourteen pages long, and well worth reading even for the educated Westerner who is well aware of the history and accustomed to studying it in much greater detail.

Neither was I disappointed in the rest of the work, which touches on an area I am becoming more and more interested in as time goes along. In any case, for those you seeking a good book for understanding the intellectual tradition of Islam, I must recommend this as an excellent introduction to the subject. Those of you who do not need an introduction, but are ready for more advanced thoughts, will likewise not be disappointed. Well done, Dr. Walbridge.

Poor Mann

Michael ("Hockey Stick") Mann has reached the questionable conclusion that it's a good idea to sue Mark Steyn for defamation, thus setting up a public court battle over the truth of Steyn's allegations concerning ClimateGate.  The quarrel grows out of Steyn's quotation from, and partial agreement with, an attempt to equate Prof. Mann with Jerry Sandusky, not on the subject of pederasty, but because the Sandusky affair calls into question the value of any internal investigation of the ethics of a poohbah at Penn State.  Mann, you may recall, was formally investigated by the university in the wake of ClimateGate, a scandal that earned him the affectionate nickname of "Piltdown" Mann on AGW-skeptic sites.  He received, if not a glowing vindication, at least a dim one -- an acquittal on three counts and a hung jury on the fourth.  Given Louis Freeh's harsh assessment of Penn State's ability to police itself in the context of the Sandusky scandal, it's natural to wonder how vigorously the same university was prepared to scrutinize Mann's affairs.  Penn State has not demonstrated a courageous willingness to embarrass any of its media stars or cash cows in the pursuit of doing what's right.

Mr. Steyn engaged in a bit of apophasis by quoting from another author's harsher article, then stating (without much conviction) that he didn't approve of its excesses in equating the two scandals.  He is a humorist, and given to dramatic and ironic expression.  He set a trap for Mann, who can't complain about the implicit equation of academic fraud with child molesting without continually drawing attention to the linkage himself -- which he's already begun doing, and on Facebook, yet.  Without this squawking, how many people would even remember that Mann was at Penn State, like Sandusky, and that he once was cleared of academic fraud by a university panel?

I look forward to Mann's attempt to prove that Steyn said anything untrue about his scientific data management, a process that, complete with testimony under oath and discovery of emails, may be better calculated to shed light on the controversy than any prior internal investigation.  What's more, as Pundit/Pundette pointed out, the last guys who sued Steyn for defamation not only lost, they set in motion a process that got the underlying Canadian libel statute repealed as an abuse of the freedom of speech in that country.

Mission Accomplished

"We tried our plan.  It worked."

Well, I guess it's a question of what the plan was meant to achieve.

It's been borne in upon me that to associate the President with dishonesty or failure is irreducibly racist. (To dip even further into the crazy punchbowl, try this theory.)  So I will take him at his word, and believe he was successful on his own terms.

An Interview with Women in the All-Army Military Combatives Tournament

The Army military combative program is a strange sort of martial art: it is designed not to hurt people. I talked to Command Sergeant Major Marvin Hill about that some years ago when he was the top NCO for MNF-I; he is currently the CSM for ISAF. I asked him about the move to a system based on Brazilian sport jujitsu, which has rules designed less to simulate combat than to prevent injury. Here's what he said:
I can't really say that I can recall an instance where -- at least during my watch and probably, you know, months leading up to my watch -- that a service member had been required to use combatives. So their hand-to-hand training, I mean, it is -- it is there if needed.... you know, a unit that conducts combative training, they kind of go into the training knowing that they're going to have some soldiers injured -- and, you know, hopefully not seriously injured, but someone that's going to probably miss some training hours within the next, you know, few days because of sprain, pulls or things like that.

And that comes from, you know, it comes from a number of things, but mostly from just working something that you haven't worked in a while, or not learning how to fall, because we've got to teach you how to fall before you start doing flips and kicks. So yes there is a concern about the loss of training time due to injuries sustained doing combative training.
If the intent is to increase confidence and avoid crippling injuries, the program must be considered a success. One area where it has really boosted confidence is for female soldiers, because there is no separation in competitive class by sex. There is separation by weight, so women don't end up fighting men who are much larger than they are, but that is all.

Several women who fought in this year's tournament were interviewed by Sports Illustrated, and talk about their experiences and thoughts on the issue of men and women in combat, and in combatives. It makes for interesting reading given our occasional discussion of the issues. The women seem to be strong advocates of not dividing the sport by sex, and appear to be commonly more put-off by men who won't fight them equally hard than by men who try to beat them down. Yet -- SI says "perhaps because of" their experience fighting men in their weight class -- they aren't interested in joining the infantry.
Perhaps because of their fighting experience, female competitors express nuanced views on the roles of women in combat. "If we can meet the demands, if there's absolutely no changing the standards, there shouldn't be an issue," Carlson says. "Do I see myself breaking down that barrier? No, I don't."

De Santis, who finished her five-year service with the Marines last January and is pursuing a professional MMA career, says her experiences as an instructor make her hesitant to advocate placing women on the front lines with the Marine Corps. No woman had been able to complete a specialized, seven-week, hand-to-hand combat course at the Martial Arts Center for Excellence. "I'm a female fighter and I'm all about female rights but I've pushed myself to my limits and beyond," she says, "But [men and women], physically, they are two different body types. To offer up, to force females into that [combat] field, isn't a good idea. But on a positive note, I see it progressing. I see more women trying to focus and learn in the mixed martial arts."
De Santis is right about the body type difference. With weight equalized, more of the male body will be muscle and bone. That's something that she's had to come up against directly. I wonder what answer they would get if they asked the men who fought these women the same question.

I've taught women martial arts -- not sport stuff, but killing stuff -- and trained with female students while learning new arts myself. I am neither one of those who won't hit them, nor one who tries to crush them. I think you owe it to your training partner to give them the full benefit of the training, but we didn't break out by weight, either, so some restraint was necessary to avoid gratuitous injury. I try to give them as much as they can handle and a little more, so they get the full benefit of the training, but aren't forced out of the program by injury and remain encouraged to continue.

All the same, I don't think you can argue with this statement from Staff Sergeant Spottedbear, a female drill instructor:
"Imagine what it's like whenever a female gets in the arena with a man and she starts to lose," says Larsen. "It's a fight. He's on top of her, punching her in the face. You have to be hardened to the idea -- you have to really believe -- that women can be treated equally to be able to put up with that. To accept that as the cost of equality."
I have to admit that I've never punched a woman in the face or the head, but that's part of the restraint issue given the weight and muscle differential. You can really hurt someone that way. I have struck women in the head with training swords, though, because the fencing mask is adequate protection.

I have punched other men in the head, and it's really satisfying when you land a good blow and they roll on the floor. I have to admit that I don't think I'd enjoy it if it were a woman I'd just hit. My commitment to equality, I suppose, doesn't go as far as equally enjoying punching them!

Living Voices

The interest in 'social networks' has provided new evidence that several powerful ancient epics were based on real people. The Iliad, the Beowulf and the Tain Bo Cualinge, unlike many more modern stories, seem to capture real social dynamics. (Hat tip: Lars Walker.)

What about the gods, though? Were they real too? A new treatment for schizophrenia is based upon the idea that they were.
Jaynes was a psychology professor at Princeton, back in the days before psychologists had walled themselves off from literature, when he noticed that the gods in the Homeric epics took the place of the human mind. In the Iliad we do not see Achilles fretting over what to do, or even thinking much. Achilles is a man of action, and in general, he acts as the gods instruct him. When Agamemnon steals his mistress and Achilles seethes with anger, Athena shows up, grabs him by the hair, and holds him back. Jaynes argued that Athena popped up in this way because humans in archaic Greece attributed thought to the gods—that when the ancient kings were buried in those strange beehive Mycenaean tombs, when social worlds were small and preliterate, people did not conceptualize themselves as having inner speech.

Jaynes did not think that the role of the gods in the Iliad was a literary trope. He thought that people who did not refer to internal states used their brains differently and—the cognitive functions of speaking and obeying split across their unintegrated hemispheres—actually experienced some thoughts audibly. “Who then were these gods that pushed men about like robots and sang epics through their lips?” Jaynes asked. “They were voices whose speech and direction could be as distinctly heard by the Iliadic heroes as voices are heard by certain epileptic and schizophrenic patients, or just as Joan of Arc heard her voices.”
The treatment, by the way, is for people who experience these voices to talk back to them, and see if you can cut a deal with them. It turns out to be the case that, at least in some cases, you can: and when you try, instead of being destructive, the voices often become friendly and even helpful.

Now that makes for an interesting -- and rather daunting -- prospect. If Jaynes were right, you could learn to hear voices: you could meet the old gods. Or the old demons.

The Love of St. Sebastian

You have probably never heard this song, unless you've heard it here before.  I have never seen the film to which it pertains.  The movie is so rare that a VHS copy runs over seventy dollars.  I wonder if it isn't the most beautiful piece that Ennio Morricone ever wrote.

It isn't one of his more famous pieces, but it is one of his odes to the love that a man bears a woman.  The closest competitor in beauty I can find is his song for the love man bears to God.

He wrote a great deal more, but I find nothing so fine as these two songs of love.  Even the Overture to this work with which we began is not so powerful as the love song -- though it has its moments.  But the chief moment is the premonition of the love theme:

Of course, he's most famous for this:

But that may have been a distraction from the true thing.

At Bob's request, in honor of the gallant men who gave their lives in the Aurora theater. 

The endless I.O.U.

During the 2008 campaign, the Net began a tentative reverberation around the concept of "socialism," which had been an unfamiliar theme in recent presidential contests.  The early reaction was often the print equivalent of blank stares, as many people took a moment to look the word up in the dictionary.  I recall many discussions of whether President Obama's goals, whatever each writer guessed they might be, actually lined up well with the classical definition of socialism.

Over the last four years, the controversy has developed a louder drumbeat.  More and more writers decline to split hairs over the precise definition of socialism and instead concentrate on the relative merits of centralized vs. dispersed control over economic decisions, as well as the central question of how a society most fairly rewards the contributions of its members.  Ann Althouse is hosting a discussion of the issue this week.  One of her readers demanded to know whether she truly thought Obama was a socialist.  She replied that it was a question of whether his policies were leading in that direction, rather than whether his convictions met a doctrinaire definition.  Other readers are chiming in with methods of describing the spectrum, using the "You Didn't Build That" argument as part of their base.  As one noted, it's important to look at the traditional functions of business owners and to examine to what extent government is usurping them.  Business owners decide which products they will push and at what price.  They hire the workers they need and make their own determination of what price they need to pay to get and keep the workers they want.  When the government sets prices, when it subsidizes products it approves of, when it orders consumers to buy products, when it mandates wages and benefits, when it interferes in business-labor negotiations, when it bails out business failures, when it invests directly in failing businesses and picks new executives -- then government may not technically own the means of production, but it's swallowing up the function of owners bit by bit.

The "You Didn't Built That" controversy is inspiring a fresh look at how the members of a society reward each other.  Everyone knows that a commercial transaction in a complex society doesn't take place in a vacuum.  The most rugged free-market individualists acknowledge the importance of law and order to support a secure and predictable commercial system.  Wealthy families are not sending their young heirs to Somalia to get in on the ground floor of profitable trade opportunities.  Roads and bridges are a good thing if you want to get your products to willing buyers.  Every factory owner depends on supplies and labor to develop into marketable products.  But does that mean our system will work best if the factory owner shares more of his profit with whatever group we think is most under-rewarded this season?

The free-market system appears too mercenary for many tastes, because it rests on the assumption that no one should get anything without paying for it.  The socialist system, though, is even worse:  it assumes that we should all pay for the same things repeatedly.  The business owner somehow scraped up initial capital (by saving it, or by persuading others to save it and risk it on him) and spent it to build his plant and hire his workers.  It's not as though he passed the hat and asked his neighbors to provide him with their time and goods out of fellow-feeling.  If his business was successful, he asked people to part with money before walking out the door with whatever useful product he put out -- but he did part with a valuable product rather than taking the purchase price at gunpoint.  He used the public roads and courts and schools, but those had previously been built with taxes on businessmen like himself, and taxes continue to supported the ongoing costs of operation.  Must we all be taxed to pay for this valuable infrastructure, and then still listen to complaints that we're getting it for free, and that we owe and owe and owe for the privilege until the day we die (and even then our estates owe)?  Must employers pay wages and still feel an undischargeable debt to their workers, or society in general, for the value of the goods they produce?

That's what's wrong with the "You Didn't Build That" speech.  We actually did build that, or at least we've already paid our share of inducing other people to build it.  It's not the government's place to keep charging rent on infrastructure forever, just because its origins are diffuse.  Citizens did it, if not directly then by funding a collective program to do it via government.  There is no outstanding bill to pay, no debt of gratitude coming due.  We all need to pay enough taxes to support whatever useful things the government is doing if we want them to continue.  We don't all owe an extra duty to pay taxes in order to compensate an amorphous body of people who "got us where we are" and are now presenting a new bill for the same old service.

The Feud Over Nothing

We've been following this feud for some time here, so you may be interested in the latest salvo.

The most interesting part of the article to me is the question of an adequate definition of "nothing."  I don't think the one they propose is actually adequate.  If you shrank the universe to radius zero, there would still be fourth-dimensional extension -- that is, the universe would have been.  If you compress the time as well as the space, so that the universe in this sense never was as well as isn't anywhere, you've still got the potential for it to have been:  after all, it was, before you started shrinking.

True nothing needs to be an absence of potential, not just an absence of actuality.  It may be that there never was (in the more usual sense of the phrase) an absence of potential; if so, there was never nothing.  Existence is then necessary:  even if you reduce the universe to "nothing" in the sense the author means it, something still exists.  That field of potential still exists.

But why is there something and not nothing?  That was the original question, and all we've accomplished is getting back around to agreeing that there is something.


Heaven knows I'd love to be writing a post about how women rose to the occasion for heroism in the Aurora movie theater.  The fact is, four young men really did.  Now is not the time for querulous feminists to discount those excellent men's sacrifice by referring to examples of moral heroism from women in the past.  Yes, Harriet Tubman is inspiring.  No, I'm not persuaded by the argument that, in holding up the young heros in Aurora for admiration and denigrating the fellow who ran and left behind his girlfriend and their child, we're being unfair and perpetuating gender stereotypes.

Just One Minute puts his finger right on it, I think, when he quotes the bit about how we all hope we're sitting next to a Todd Beamer on the airplane.  No, honey, some people are aspiring to be Todd Beamer, not sit there and wait to be rescued by him.  If you're going to be a feminist, that's the standard you have to hold yourself to.  Otherwise you join the ranks of the guy who ran like a rabbit and left his girlfriend and child behind.

Muddled missions

The USDA has a brilliant new initiative to heal the planet.

I have a better plan:  abolish the USDA.  It doesn't seem to have any idea what its mission is any more. Is it supposed to ensure reliable food production?  Fix prices?  Subsidize corn?  Promote food-stamp dependency?  Combat obesity?  Reduce the carbon footprint?  It's lurching around at cross-purposes.  Bury it at midnight, I say.

Stomp the (Right Wing) Girl!

She made a racist joke! Well, if "African" is a race... which it isn't, really... and if it's derogatory to suggest that people feed mosquitoes, which they kinda do.

However, she does support a right-wing political party. So, you know, destroying her life is entirely appropriate. Just like describing those "Anglo-Saxon" remarks by an unnamed adviser as evidence that the Romney campaign is based on "white supremacy." (Are French people white? I guess not, since they don't much care for "Anglo-Saxon" approaches to problems.)

But, hey, maybe this is an entirely proportionate response.  After all, getting into the Olympics isn't a big deal. I hear you don't even get paid for it.

UPDATE:  Apparently even corporations get this treatment.  And that works... for now.  But I wouldn't expect it to work for long.

Another Round on Gun Control

President Obama said today...
I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers and not in the hands of crooks. They belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.
You mean like Chicago, which is more deadly for Americans than Afghanistan? Has been for a while; I was in Iraq when the murder rate for Baghdad dropped below Chicago's. Got lots of gun control in Chicago, too.

You know how we made Baghdad safer than Chicago? We put a lot of guys with assault rifles to walking the streets.

They could be soldiers, but they don't have to be. A properly trained citizens' militia would do a lot for bringing order to Chicago. If you want to talk about the Second Amendment, let's talk about that. Why do you want to take from the ordinary, honest citizen the capacity to protect himself, his family, and his neighborhood? Why don't you empower him instead?

Department of Circular Reasoning Department

From Politico via HotAir, this gem of an explanation from David Axelrod.  Polls show a public impression, by a 2-to-1 margin, that Obama is running a more negative campaign than Romney.  Axelrod explains that that's only because Romney is running ads accusing Obama of negative campaigning.  Now I guess we'll need a poll to determine which campaign is using ads more critical of the other's ads.

In other brilliant-campaign-strategy news, the Obama campaign is explaining that his "you didn't build that" speech didn't really say that, thus ensuring that millions more voters will view clips from the actual speech on infinite loop for the next week or so.

An Old Poem

I found a poem in an old journal tonight, one I wrote when I was still just beginning to compose. At that time I was interested in the Old Norse forms, which alliterate instead of rhyming.  It was composed in honor of my wife, imagining her as a fairy maid encountered in a wild wood, besought for a bride.

Creature, you crossed my way
Careful as a hart,
Music of the high wood.
Magic is this forest,
Magic your merry eyes,
Moon-silver, pine-green,
Ah! Long-neck, lithe and faerie,
Lustrous as sun-stroked stone.

Frost-Fearless, what
In your fine hands
Speaks of seams,
Sewn garments shining,
Or beasts made boldly,
Brought from cold clay
And fed with fire?

Wild Quest! Wait, Lady,
Wander with me,
Be faithful, stay:
Though far we fare
Our wandering home
Will linger at last.
For your rest I'll raise a tower:
Raise, and make it mine.

Original Gangster

We don't do a lot of hip-hop here, but Ice-T has always been the one I most respect. When he wasn't doing his over-the-top act, he wrote a lot of songs urging young men to take their brains and their honor as seriously as their physicality. Not that he was opposed to violence, to be sure; but neither am I.

Here are a few of them.

Looks like he hasn't changed much.

Wow, So... That Bill O'Reilly Doesn't Know $#~! About Firearms, Does He?

Some of you sent me this.

"Howitzers"? Like, the Civil War ones that require a team of guys to operate? Yeah, you can buy those. Not these, though; and they still require a team to operate.

"Heavy weapons"? Most of what he lists has been banned without severe Federal intrusion into your life since the 1930s.

Apparently nobody ever explained to him about the difference between semi- and fully-automatic, either.

And as for owning 60,000 rounds... OK, you can buy them. How many can you carry?

On "Anglo-Saxon" Relations

Did you know that "Romney" was an Anglo-Saxon name? This article asserts that it is, based on an Anglo-Saxon place name that predates the Norman conquest. Given the structure of the name, and the time I've spent with Old English/Anglo-Saxon, I find that surprising. On reflection, though, it's not impossible.
This interesting surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is lcoational from a place so called in Kent, which was originally the name of a river. The first element seems to be derived from the Old English pre 7th Century "rum", spacious, but its formation and meaning are obscure. The second element is derived from the Old English "ea", river. The placename was first recorded as "Rumenea" in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of Essex in 1052. A derivative of Romney is found recorded as "Ruminingseta" in the Saxon Charters of 697, and means "the fold of the Romney people".... The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert de Romenel, which was dated 1086, The Domesday Book of Kent, during the reign of King William 1, "The Conqueror", 1066 - 1087.
The spelling "Robert de Romenel" is clearly French on two points: "Robert" is an Old French name that existed among the Normans, but not among the Saxons; and "de -" is a French form as well. "Romney" also looks like a word of French descent.

But the authors of the book thought and wrote in French, and there were variations of "Robert" that was native to Anglo-Saxon England: Hrēodbēorð and some others. If the name was Normanized at the time of the Conquest, it could have survived in a form that doesn't look Saxon, but honestly happens to be. So possibly, for whatever it's worth, he's as Saxon as King Alfred.

Of course, for those Americans who aren't antiquarians, the real question is: "Was this remark just coded racism, or was it double-super coded racism?"

The Burning

Remember we talked about that paper by that professor out in Texas that purported to find worse outcomes for the children of adults in same-sex relationships than for those in intact marriages? We talked about it here.

Apparently that professor has received a certain amount of attention from his colleagues.
His data were collected by a survey firm that conducts top studies, such as the American National Election Survey, which is supported by the National Science Foundation. His sample was a clear improvement over those used by most previous studies on this topic.

Regnerus was trained in one of the best graduate programs in the country and was a postdoctoral fellow under an internationally renowned scholar of family, Glen Elder, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.... His article underwent peer review, and the journal's editor stands behind it.... And another recent study relying on a nationally representative sample also suggests that children of same-sex parents differ from children from intact, heterosexual marriages.

But never mind that. None of it matters.... His antagonists have already damaged his chances of being promoted to full professor. If his critics are successful at besmirching his reputation, his career may be seriously damaged.

But something bigger is at stake: The very integrity of the social-science research process is threatened by the public smearing and vigilante media attacks we have seen in this case.
Well, that will teach you to say something interesting. Back to the factory with you!

Government by Blackmail

Apparently this kind of thing works in New York City.
Last night New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg made an extraordinarily dangerous and radical pronouncement....
Well, I would take it one step further. I don't understand why the police officers across this country don't stand up collectively and say, we're going to go on strike. We're not going to protect you. Unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what's required to keep us safe.

After all, police officers want to go home to their families. And we're doing everything we can to make their job more difficult but, more importantly, more dangerous, by leaving guns in the hands of people who shouldn't have them, and letting people who have those guns buy things like armor-piercing bullets.
Out here, I'd expect the public to respond to a 'police strike' by saying, "Look, if you don't want the job, don't let the door hit you on your way out." I don't see a deputy out here more than once a year or so anyway; I wouldn't even notice if they went away. Maybe even save some money come tax time.

The mayor apparently realized that he was advocating an illegal action, and is trying to walk it back today. I wonder, though, if it wouldn't be a real awakening for the public sector union to take a walk? People might just find that they don't need as much help from the government as they think they do. Even in New York City, I'll bet there are many neighborhoods that could pull together and suppress any criminals who thought it was a good time to take advantage. They certainly might find that they'd like to be able to apply at-will employment principles to these jobs, rather than being subject to unionized blackmail.

In Chicago, crime rates might even go down. Whatever the police unions are doing out there obviously isn't working. Maybe it's time for a change of pace.

The British Resistance

The Olympic games are in London this year. As those of you who were in Atlanta in 1996 will recall, or who were any other city where this plague of locusts has descended, with the Olympics comes aggressive enforcement of Olympic copyrights. Things you could say six weeks ago -- "Welcome to Atlanta, Home of the 1996 Olympics" -- suddenly become a civil offense for which you will be hauled into court. Actually, it's worse than that: even "Atlanta" or "1996!" becomes off limits for the duration.

Technically the law is on their side here, as they want to restrict their logo and name to their sponsors, in the hope of encouraging more sponsors. Of course, most people who fall afoul of the aggressive enforcement just wanted to get into the spirit of the thing, and are shocked when they are told they have to pay big bucks to join in celebrating the games. The games are, after all, famously proclaimed to be all about international goodwill. Though the Games are in the right by the lights of the law, they often end up trampling on that spirit.

A few street merchants aside, the citizens of Atlanta mostly just ponied up the dough and put up with it. The British were apparently more irritated. Londoners, for example, have taken to finding new ways to torment the enforcers.

"These aren't rings! They're squares!"

The law is an ass

And never more so than in Wondertaxland!  Prof. Althouse regales us with the fable of a rich woman who leaves a prominent work of art to her heirs.  The problem is, the work of art features a long-dead stuffed endangered species, which therefore cannot be sold legally.  How to extract estate taxes from this bonanza?  (The woman died in 2007, before the estate taxes were temporarily de-fanged.)  If the estate can't sell the art, is it worth anything?  Absent the endangered species law, art experts say it would be worth $65 million, thus generating almost $30 million in tax bills.  Assuming the estate doesn't have that kind of cash handy without selling the artwork, it's a tough spot.

The problem of valuing an asset that can't be sold isn't really as exotic as this story would suggest.  It's the typical problem faced by a family business at death, and the reason it's a very good idea to have a big life-insurance policy available to pay the estate tax with if you don't want your heirs to be dragooned into a fire-sale.  For decades I watched people spends untold millions of dollars fighting over the valuation of businesses that couldn't or wouldn't be sold for one reason or another; the usual approach in bankruptcy court is to hire experts to fight over what kind of income it's likely to generate over time, and then over the right discount rate to use in taking a present value of that stream of income.  (Bankruptcy lawyers can keep that kind of thing up for years, if a sensible judge doesn't exert some discipline over what can never be more than a rough substitute for reality.)

The best approach is to imitate Solomon:  try to find a way to force all the combatants to take responsibility for the flip side of their claims.  The IRS should be forced, for instance, to confront the prospect of a charitable deduction from ordinary income resulting from the donation of the artwork to a museum.  That will put a stop to wild imaginings about the huge value of the piece.  Likewise, if the heirs insist that the work has no value, they should be forced to confront the price they would demand in an eminent-domain action.  Even if they can't sell it, they may be very attached to the notion of keeping it, whether for personal pleasure or for the status of owning it.  If a museum owned it, it might generate income from admissions fees.  Regardless of the popular wisdom, sales are not the only means of establishing a value even in the strict economic sense.  The old system of dividing a candy-bar fairly comes to mind:  one cuts, the other chooses.

Better yet, though, just get rid of the unified gift-and-estate tax, which is an abomination to start with.

Is Patriotism Moral?

A professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, Dr. Gary Gutting, asks the question. It's an interesting approach to the liberal/modern problem set, which tends to argue to the conclusion that patriotism isn't moral. Dr. Gutting wants to argue that American patriotism, at least, can be; but he also wants you to understand why many modern thinkers don't think it can be ("modern," in philosophy, generally refers to the lines of thought originating in the 18th century with David Hume and Immanuel Kant, which underlie most of contemporary philosophy as well).
At the beginning of Plato’s “Republic,” Socrates asks what justice (doing the morally right thing) is, and Polemarchus replies that it’s helping your friends and harming your enemies. That was the answer among the ancient Greeks as well as many other traditional societies. Moral behavior was the way you treated those in your “in-group,” as opposed to outsiders.

Socrates questioned this ethical exclusivism, thus beginning a centuries-long argument that, by modern times, led most major moral philosophers (for example, Mill and Kant) to conclude that morality required an impartial, universal viewpoint that treated all human beings as equals. In other words, the “in-group” for morality is not any particular social group (family, city, nation) but humankind as a whole. This universal moral viewpoint seems to reject patriotism for “cosmopolitanism[.]”
The argument follows two questions:

1)  How can it be a virtue, if it causes us to value some people's interests more highly than others?

2)  Is it possible to treat people as equals while favoring your own group's interest?

I'll leave you to consider his approach to American patriotism. I'm going to propose another set of answers to the problem, which to me seem better.

Dr. Gutting should pause and reflect on how Aristotle, as well as Plato, would approach the question.  First of all, what is a virtue?  It is a strength, an excellence; it is also a capacity, which allows you to pursue new actualities.  Courage is a strength, but having courage means being able to do things that the cowardly cannot do.

But to determine what capacities are really conveyed by the virtue, we also have to know the nature of the thing. Human nature is different from horse nature. The expression of the virtue of courage in a man will therefore be very different from the expression of what is courage in a horse.

Patriotism is a subset of the virtue of loyalty. Loyalty is certainly a virtue, because it gives us strength: those who possess mutual loyalty have a capacity to do things that those without it cannot do.

But what is the proper expression of loyalty? To know that we have to look to the nature of the thing that is being loyal, in this case, human nature.

Aristotle determines (in Politics I) that man is a social animal, and that political behavior is part of human nature. Every man will thus be born into a polity as he is born into a family; for every woman, it is the same.

It turns out that patriotism is a virtue that arises from our nature. It's like your relationship with your mother: you're going to have a relationship of one kind or another, but if you can find a way to love her and forgive her, it's a healthier relationship than if you get trapped in despising and resenting her. Thus, patriotism is a kind of human flourishing; everyone should be patriotic.

But what about the concern that we need to treat everyone as equals? Dr. Gutting is thinking about the American mission to free all mankind, which I also think is an admirable mission. There is, though, another answer: we often seek justice adversarially.

Our court system works this way. The idea isn't that it's wrong for the defense attorney to be totally committed, by hook or crook, to getting his client as free of charges as possible. It's that, in the opposition of such interests, justice will emerge. So there's no reason not to fight for your country; in fact, insofar as you are interested in that higher justice, everyone should fight for his country, and justice will emerge from the contest. The better ideas and systems will rise; the worse ones will fall, or reform.

Thus, if your interest is justice for all humankind, this may be the best way to achieve it.

Chivalry in Action

Here is an interesting fact: out of those killed in the recent mass shooting, fully a third were men who had thrown themselves on top of their girlfriends to protect them. Two of these were US Navy sailors.

Another man was shot doing the same thing, but did not die. All of these men have the honor of the Hall, and deserve both our praise and acclaim. They chose a most honorable path.

A Word with Zell Miller

Professor Zell Miller, former Senator, Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the Great State of Georgia, and a former Marine as well, consented to a brief interview at a recent fundraiser for a Republican.  Zell credits the United States Marine Corps with his success in life. He had allowed himself to be made to feel inferior by those at his college who mocked his mountain upbringing, so that he had dropped out.  Depressed, drinking moonshine, he drove his truck into a ditch and was picked up by the police.  He joined the Marines looking to be straightened out.  He learned discipline, honor, punctuality, and the other tools that let him ascend to the highest office in the state, and to be the natural choice to replace a Senator who died in office.

He endorsed President Bush in a firestorm speech at the Republican National Convention, but refused to leave the Democratic Party.  It had been his home his whole life, he said.

Why would the most famous lifelong Democrat in Georgia break a long exile to help fundraise for a Republican?
“My grandmother was a Collins out of Union County. And I was impressed by what a good legislator [Doug Collins] made. “I felt I had a mountain relationship with him.”
The interviewer spends most of his time on Zell's health concerns and the terrible pain that resulted from a recent fall down a flight of stairs. He gets to something important late in the interview, though, which is to ask him why he had turned to the right so publicly back in 2004.  He had become not only a Bush supporter, but an outspoken foe of abortion, and an equally outspoken critic of the dissolution of American morality.

“I had a conversion. I had a late life conversion. I changed my views on several things. This had to do with my son going blind, and me having to carry him to the doctor with his hand on my shoulder.... I prayed and prayed that they could do something about his sight,” Miller said.

The prayers seemed to work. “He can see pretty good out of one eye right now.” But a bargain struck with God often transforms the petitioner more than the object of any plea. “I changed on a lot of things. Not just abortion, but my whole life in general. I was a pretty rough character in my younger days. I needed to change,” Miller said.
I suppose even the Marine Corps won't object to hearing that God had to finish what they started.

A Conceptual Point About the Division of Rights

We are all familiar with the division of liberties and rights into "negative" and "positive."  A negative right is the kind of right that doesn't require anyone to provide you with anything; it just forbids them from interfering with you.  A positive right requires some actual provision.  In Georgia as in several other states, for example, there is a positive right in the state constitution to hunt and to fish.  This means that the state is obligated to provide the means for such hunting and fishing.  It cannot be the case that you have a positive right to hunt, but that there is no land available on which you may exercise this right.  If you have a positive right to fish, you must have access to at least some waters in which fishing is possible.

These rights aren't unfettered -- there are licensing requirements, fees, bag limits, and so forth -- but they do require that the state provide something for you.  Your right imposes an obligation on the state not merely to refrain, but to act on your behalf to secure the thing to which you have a right.

All that is well understood.  However, what is less well understood is that there is a middle ground between the two categories.  There are some otherwise-negative rights that require physical goods.  No one is obligated to provide you with these goods, but your right to provide yourself with them is protected.  Thus, the Second Amendment says that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.  Nobody needs to provide you with arms, but you must not be stopped from purchasing your own if you desire.

But it's a little stronger than that.  There is an almost-positive element to it:  we are obligated not to try to make the arms unavailable.  It won't do to set up a case in which anyone who wishes to buy a firearm can buy one, but there are none to buy.  It won't do for a governor to say, "I'm not infringing your right; go buy a gun, any gun you can find!" if that governor has previously arranged to buy up all the guns and melt them down.

In such a case the negative right has ceased to exist even though it is allegedly still extant and uninfringed by any letter of law.  There isn't a positive right as such, but there almost is:  the government may not be legally obligated to provide the good, or even access to the good.  Yet if it isn't obligated not to prevent the possibility of access to the good, the right can cease to exist as an actual right that you can really exercise.

A similar case occurs with these "Free Speech zones," whereby the government orders you not to engage in assembly or speech near a political convention (say), except in a narrow area too small for all the competing groups (and usually far from the actual event).  You have a negative right that is technically not being infringed; and technically, there is even a place provided for its exercise.  But practically, the right is denied if there is not a place in which to practice it.

So yesterday I wrote up a piece about Commerce, Georgia, and the public pool that does not permit cursing.  Is that an unacceptable infringement of freedom of speech, for the government officials who run the pool to refuse to allow you to speak certain words in a public park?  Perhaps not, if you think that the existence of the rest of the world is an adequate amount of space for cursing in; in that case, you could say that this is better, because we have one place for people who don't like to hear foul language (and do like to swim), and people who like to curse can go do it elsewhere when they are done swimming; or they can simply forgo swimming, and curse all day if it pleases them.

How far can we take that principle?  Can we ban cursing on all public property?  Within the city limits, whether the land is public or private?  Within the county?  Within a state?  Within the United States?  At some point we're crossing that line pertaining to the mostly-negative right that has a necessary physical component.  Just where?